Hands up everyone who honestly thought the Giants had a real shot of upsetting Tennessee, the #1 seed in the AFC playoffs last year, on the road to boot. Hands up anyone, and I really mean anyone, who honestly thought the Giants had any chance of coming back against the Titans in the second half after a first half performance that could best be described as inept. In fact, my main concern at half time was what kind of concession speech I would have to make after spending much of the off-season arguing that I felt this was a better team than people were giving them credit for.
But strange things have been known to happen at half time. The team that’s dominating spends their time in the room thinking about where they are going to have dinner after the game, while the losing team just stews. Whatever, the Giants looked like a completely different team after the break on both sides of the ball; they scored twice on their first 6 offensive plays of the second half and ultimately hung to win 21-20 when the Titans missed a 47-yard FG attempt on the last play as the football gods finally smiled on the Giants. In the process, the Giants won their opening game for the first time since 2016. Incredibly, it’s also the first time since 2016 that the Giants have actually been above .500!
And we’ll wait a few more weeks before crowing about the Giants just maybe being a better team than people were giving them credit for. What the win did indicate, though, as we have been arguing for several seasons now, you win in the NFL these days. And for once the Giants got their share with runs of 68- and 41-yards by Saquon Barkley setting up their first and third TDs and a 65-yard Daniel Jones-to-Sterling Shepard bomb accounting for the other. Take away those three big plays and the Giants quite literally get shut out!
Indeed, Saquon, with 194 total yards of offense, including 164 on the ground – on just 18 carries was the star of the game and if there is any justice out there will be the NFL’s player-of-the-week. And NO the Giants are not going to trade him before the deadline. Right now, he’s the only impact player the Giants have on offense and if he gets hurt he gets hurt and you move on. But there is simply no way they are going to get anywhere near his value as a potential impact player even if they were to get as much as a second rounder in exchange.
Needless to say, Saquon gets one of our proverbial ‘game balls’. So does head coach Brian Daboll for his gutsy decision to go for two to give the Giants the lead heading into the final minute. And while the Giants had played well in the second half, I am not sure I would not have felt real confident going into OT on the road against a really good team. Plus, its only two yards and the way Saquon was running and the OL was blocking one would have to figure that the odds to make it were well over 50%. Pretty nifty play call, too, although Saquon did have to make an exquisite cut that just not many backs can make – see above why you don’t trade him! – to make that score.
We’d also give a game ball to WR/PR Richie James. He did drop one catchable ball that cost the Giants a first down, but he lead the receivers with 5 catches for 59 yards including a couple of key conversions, plus he did a nice job returning punts as he averaged over 12 yards per. That included a key 22-yard return that helped set up the Giants final game-winning drive. And while nobody really stood out on defense, some props to DE Jihad Ward who didn’t get much pressure on the pocket, but was involved in a number of stops on Titans’ RB Derek Henry whom the Giants held to less than 4 yards per carry on the day.
It would also be verging on malpractice to not mention QB Daniel Jones. Unfortunately, all anybody seems to want to talk about is that dreadful pick he threw in the end zone. Hard to tell whether he was just late with the throw – and I mean really late – or just didn’t see the safety coming over, it was a bad play and Daboll clearly let him know. Other than that, though, Jones was really good. He completed 17 of 21 passes, with one of the incompletions dropped, and had a couple of TD throws. More than, though, he looked like a guy who was in control out there and we really don’t think he’s going anywhere else anytime soon.
All that said, there were several things that made us scratch our heads a little on Sunday afternoon. For starters, the offense ran a pretty traditional scheme as opposed to the pre-season games when there were there a lot of 6-7 yard type completions to the backs and TEs over the middle. The pre-season also featured a lot of crossing routes and sideline routes to the backs, but we saw almost none of that yesterday, although of course, the fact that they were running the ball reasonably effectively impacted those kinds of decisions. At the same time, while they were running the ball effectively we really didn’t see much play action. We’d also like to see Saquon catch a few passes as he’s headed upfield. Other than the misfired pass that was picked off, on most of the passes that Saquon caught he was running laterally at the time of reception rather than vertically.
On the other side of the ball, we saw what we felt were too many instances when the 290-pound Ward ended up dropping into coverage where he clearly was a fish out of water. Same to a degree for Ximenes.
We also have to wonder why on sure passing downs such as in the last minute, both of the Giants’ MLBs Tae Crowder and Austin Calitro were still on the field, despite the fact that neither is particularly good in coverage. The Giants are currently thin in the secondary, but surely any of their extra DBs, even guys who are primarily special teamers, would have been faster quicker options at the time. We do expect that Dane Belton will take one of those spots when he returns, but has always felt to me that playing an inside LB who neither covers well nor rushes the passer means you are almost playing a man short in those situations.
And while the win was great, it was hard not to notice a couple of major structural issues with the Giants that could be problematic going forward. On the one hand, the Giants got almost pressure on Tennessee Ryan Tannehill at all. Indeed, the next Giants defender that gets close to him will be the first. Of course, the Giants were playing without their starting DEs so getting Thibo and Az Ojulari back has to help.
The bigger concern, though, was the number of Titans’ receivers running free much of the night. CB Aaron Robinson did hold up pretty well on the corner opposite Adoree’ Jackson, but slot corner Darnay Holmes struggled as did the LBs against backs and TEs, while the safeties were lining up very deep.
The biggest issue we see, though, is at the receiver positions. The hope coming into the season was that Golladay and Toney would be closer to 100% and combine with rookie Wan’dale Robinson to give the Giants a decent big-play group. However, on Sunday, that group had just 5 touches COMBINED. Golladay, in fact, looks like just a shell of the guy who led the league in TD receptions just three years ago, while Toney looked positively electric on the two runs he had, but there has to be a reason he didn’t get many snaps and was never targeted in the passing game. The only good news is that Robinson, who was injured on Sunday, is listed as day-to-day so it appears he’ll be okay. Problem is that he looks like he’s quite a ways from getting up to speed in the pro game.
Bottom line is that this is a passing league and if you are going to pass you have to have receives and it looks like the Giants may not have any they can count on other than Shepard, who despite the big play on Sunday, has been mostly an underneath possession receiver most of his career. On the one hand, we’d certainly like to see them get Darius Slayton, the only real deep threat on the roster, out on the field, even just as a decoy.
And if I’m Joe Schoen I’m pushing my pro scouting department to scour the league looking for a trade possibility or two at the position. Heck, I ‘m not sure I’d have a problem if the Giants made a call if an elite receiver like DK Metcalf or Deebo Samuel came on the market. In fact, you can make a pretty good case that the biggest element separating the Giants from the major contenders in the NFL is the lack of a true, elite receiver.